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Dublin: 20 °C Friday 7 August, 2020

'Priceless' stolen relic returned to Christ Church Cathedral after gardaí find it in Phoenix Park

The heart of St Laurence O’Toole was stolen in March 2012.

PastedImage-8742 The heart of St Laurence O’Toole is back.

THE HEART OF St Laurence O’Toole has been returned to its home in Christ Church Cathedral, but gardaí are being tight-lipped about how the relic was recovered.

The heart was stolen in March 2012 and this evening the cathedral’s Dean, the Very Reverend Dermot Dunne, spoke of his delight that it was returned completely undamaged.

“It’s a survivor,” Dunne said pointing to the relic.

“Not only in recent times, but in the reformation all the relics were burned and this seems to have survived that even. So there’s something about the heart.”

The dean was speaking before a ceremony in Christ Church Cathedral where the heart was to be presented to the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Reverend Dr Michael Jackson.

Dunne says that the relic is made of lead and that originally the heart would have been placed in it and the relic moulded around it.

He describes it as being a “priceless treasure” but says that it has no economic value.

Dunne says it’s not possible to know for sure if the actual heart of St Laurence O’Toole, Dublin’s patron saint, is inside the relic, but that there is centuries of tradition associated with it.

Scientifically we don’t know if it’s the heart of St Laurence O’Toole. All we can go back on is tradition, and every relic, it’s the same of every relic, you cannot truly identify the provenance of the relic, but it’s what it has been associated with it over the centuries.

“And we are going back into centuries of tradition in the cathedral that the heat of St Laurence was believed to be here.”

The Anglican priest says that when the relic was returned he looked over it and found that there were fragments of plastic bag on it, suggesting it had been kept in one.

“I can’t see any change in it whatsoever, whoever took it looked after it,” he said.

“What I found in it were fragments of a plastic bag and what may of happened to it was that it was wrapped in plastic and probably buried somewhere.”

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

Dunne says that he always had a “glimmer of hope” that the relic would be returned and added that he’s not concerned about whoever stole it being caught, only that it’s back.

It’s not my concern, it hasn’t been my concern what happens to those who stole it, I’m just happy I have it back. I’m forgiving and I’m delighted it’s back, so to anyone who was involved in making it come back, I’m very grateful.

Gardaí are conducting forensic tests on the relic and said there is an ongoing investigation into the theft.

Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy said that the heart was recovered in the Phoenix Park with the help of the public but declined to give further details about how this came about.

“It was a very, very tenacious piece of work by the gardaí but we achieved very, very little without the community. But that’s as far as we will go,” he said.

“Maybe it got to the stage where they decided it wasn’t good luck to have something of such significance. Maybe that’s what happened in the end.”

LAURENCE O TOOLE 758A0017_90543519 The relic was passed from the possession the gardai to Christ Church Cathedral this evening. Source: Eamonn Farrell/

The garda said that after six years he “wasn’t hopeful” it would be recovered but added that investigators had made progress in recent weeks.

They came to me a couple of weeks ago and said ‘we think we’re getting closer to this’, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up so I said ‘guys until I have it in my hands and until the dean says it is what you think it is let’s continue with the operation’.

“We met with the dean and the dean confirmed it was what we thought it was. So we’re absolutely delighted to be bringing it home to Christ Church, but I suppose in the overall context, to bring it back to Dublin.”

“In terms of why people would take it, people see value in all sorts of unique items and in fairness the relic is a really, really unique item. I don’t see why anyone would have an interest in buying it on after the initial burglary, but obviously that didn’t happen and we’re delighted that it didn’t happen.”

St Laurence O’Toole, who was born Lorcán Ua Tuathail in Kildare in 1132, became Archbishop of Dublin in 1161. He died in France in 1180 and was canonised by Pope Honorius III in 1226.

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Rónán Duffy

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